Background Briefing on Secretary Kerry's Meetings in Islamabad, Pakistan
MODERATOR: Okay, so I know it’s late. This is a background briefing reading out the Secretary’s meetings this evening. We will not make this a marathon. We’ll just give a quick overview.
QUESTION: Let’s make it a very short sprint.
MODERATOR: Excellent. We’ll just give a quick overview and take a few questions --
QUESTION: Five yards.
MODERATOR: -- and then we’ll look forward to the Strategic Dialogue. So with that, State Department Official Number One, do you want to start?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Sure. As you all know, the formal part of the Strategic Dialogue is tomorrow with the ministerial plenary, which will include a kind of recitation of what all the five working groups that we have and what they’ve done over the course of the last year, year and a half, what’s looking forward over the next year.
We want to make sure to build on what we’ve done over the last few years and, in addition to that plenary session, have a really informal and free-flowing discussion at a principal level in a very interagency, whole-of-government manner that augments that. And that’s exactly what we did this evening.
So for several hours we had the senior members from both sides, on the civilian, diplomatic, economic, military, and intelligence channels, and had a discussion --
QUESTION: (Laughter.) I’m sorry. (Off-mike.)
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: And so across all those kind of thematic areas had a very kind of honest and productive and really constructive discussion which touched on everything that you would expect a discussion of that sort to touch on, focused in part because General Austin was there with Secretary Kerry on counterterrorism, counter-extremism issues, the range of issues we’ve discussed many times before on al-Qaida, Taliban, Haqqani, LET, not having any distinctions between terrorists but also very focused on the regional dynamics, taking advantage of this unique window of opportunity with Afghanistan; reporting a little bit on what’s occurred over the course of the last few months since the beginning of the Ghani administration, including as recently as ISI DG’s trip to Kabul yesterday, and what comes next on a whole range of those various channels. So increased economic trade, on cross-border SOPs and military cooperation, on counterterrorism and on reconciliation, which we’ve long said, as well as the Pakistanis and the Afghan leadership, is the surest, most sustainable way towards regional stability, and how we can all support that.
Given the Secretary just came from India, he debriefed a little bit on the India trip as well, and we talked about other broader regional issues. In terms of bilateral issues, we talked about continued civilian assistance, security assistance, economic issues, market access. It really covered the waterfront. But it was in a very informal, friendly, focused manner. It included on the Pakistani side not only Prime Minister Sharif but Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif, DG ISI General Rizwan, Finance Minister Dar, National Security Advisor Aziz, Foreign Policy Advisor Tariq Fatemi, Ambassador Jilani --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The interior minister.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, the Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar. So really, all the key decision makers from across their interagency.
And on our side we also had all those issues represented, obviously, led by the Secretary and General Austin, but with us, Ambassador Olson, Tina Kaidanow – Ambassador Kaidanow and others. Ambassador Kaidanow led the Law Enforcement and Counterterrorism Working Group here this morning for about four years focused on issues from border management to counter-IED issues, to a range of kind of other similarly themed issues, and so she was also able to contribute what had been discussed in that working group.
So all in all, a very kind of constructive dialogue, and frankly one that we built this relationship very purposefully over the course of the last few years to enable. I think over – especially given where we were in 2011 and 2012, revitalizing the Strategic Dialogue in 2013. We have not had a true interagency whole-of-government discussion like this at such a principal level for at least several years, and it’s one that we continue to look forward to doing down the road as opportunities arise through the Strategic Dialogue.
MODERATOR: Anything, [Senior State Department Official Two or Three], you want to add?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Maybe just on the context of the timeline. Long-term over the course of five years, we’re obviously at a relative high-water mark after the 2012 bottoming out of the relationship. We committed ourselves at that point to not just reset the relationship but to rebalance it in a way that was much more constructive and pragmatic. And I think the dialogue today being very frank and candid and constructive really reflects the fact that we’ve achieved some measure of restoring the bilateral relationship to a new and better place.
In the medium term, there are a number of opportunities that are all converging with regard to the leadership in the region. Obviously, the prime minister’s in his second year of a – Prime Minister Modi – or President Ghani, General Rizwan in their first year – all of these leaders representing, I think, new perspectives and new opportunities.
And then very near-term, the timing’s important in the wake of Peshawar, as President Ghani’s trying to really put emphasis and priority on his reconciliation program, which clearly looks to Pakistan as playing a very prominent role.
So there’s a number of ways in which I think the timing of where this dialogue sits is very important, very helpful, and holds some degree of potential.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: On that note, we talk about this quite a bit. I mean, I think we’re both (inaudible) – anyway, I think we’re very clear-eyed about all the challenges that this presents. But given that both of us have been doing this for a number of years now and having seen all of the volatility in this relationship over the course of the last five or so years, the fact that we are in this kind of alignment of interests and have this window of opportunity to have discussions like these, both bilaterally with Pakistan and what it means more broadly for the region, given the change of leadership throughout the region, all through – in Afghanistan, Pakistan, through historic democratic transitions for the first time, is not insignificant.
And so we want to see what we can do to continue to leverage this. And I think the fact that we have this, it’s kind of symbiotic with the Strategic Dialogue writ large, and we’re able to have a discussion like this because we reinvested in 2012 and able – were able to get the relationship on firmer footing. And because we had something like this, we’ll be able to continue to invest in the Strategic Dialogue and make it stronger. So we’ll see how tomorrow goes and where we take the relationship over the coming year.
MODERATOR: All right.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: If I could just add one thing. And not to be the fly on the wall, because I think everybody – there was broad agreement --
QUESTION: No, no [Senior State Department Official], tell us exactly what it really is that they’ve been trying to say. (Laughter.)
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Broad agreement among everybody in the room that this was a very constructive conversation. But the point was also made in the end that it would be a shame if this were only a sort of rhetorically constructive moment, and that it would be important, very important, for both sides to follow up on the dialogue with concrete steps that continue to move the ball forward. And only time will tell if the hard work that that requires will be done.
QUESTION: Do you get the sense that in the wake of this brutal attack that the Pakistani leadership is actually changing its orientation and willing to go after groups like LET and Haqqani and so on, or not?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, keeping in mind [Senior State Department Official]’s kind of cautionary note that the proof is in the pudding, and I mean, it relies on kind of what actual operational steps are taken. The rhetoric that we heard tonight and what we’ve heard over the course of the last months since the Peshawar attack was absolutely the case that this has unified the country in a way that they’ve repeatedly described as their 9/11, that this kind of broke – that it created a consensus in the country that had never been there in that same way.
So even though they explained why the negotiation period before the North Waziristan operation was important to try and then fail, and that created a certain amount of consensus for the North Waziristan operation, that this event, given just kind of its horrific nature, had truly united the country, and the way that the country has reacted since then, including basically all the major parties – including the opposition party, including some of the religious parties – in trying to put together a national action plan and trying to figure out how they would deal with terrorism. And certainly, and saying publicly and privately that they were not making any sort of distinction between terrorist groups is something that we’ve heard more uniformly, more robustly than we’ve ever heard.
QUESTION: And are you just – do you believe it?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I hope to believe it. We’ll have to see kind of what develops, but I think that you can’t deny that the North Waziristan operation has had some significant impacts that – which they have to continue to solidify and strengthen. There’s no denying that the cooperation – continued cooperation on al-Qaida continues to be extremely strong, including some significant actions taken over the course of the last month or two. I think individually, the intelligence relationship, the military relationship, diplomatic relationship are all stronger than they’ve been for quite some time. And the fact that it’s – that they’re – it’s all happening simultaneously, and then with a galvanizing event like this, I think that they’re – they told us very, very explicitly, from both military and civilian leadership, that they were in this fight till the end. And we’ll have to see, but if, in fact, they are doing that, that’s a commitment we want to support.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The Pakistani delegation told us several times today they won’t differentiate between good and bad Taliban, and there are two important things inherent to that kind of a statement. One is acknowledgment that there had been or was a policy of good Taliban and bad Taliban, which I think is interesting. But secondly, it’s a – that’s a measurable proposition going forward. They’ve now put themselves – committed themselves to something that we can actually more easily observe and measure, because if there is no differentiation, then all Taliban and all militants should be within the specter of their operations. And that’s something that makes it much easier for us to engage with them. So I think it is a very forward-looking thing, and now it gives us the ability to kind of go back to that, and it simplifies this part of the dialogue. But we are going to have to watch and see how this plays out.
QUESTION: But it doesn’t seem that – it seems like they’re talking the talk, but there’s no evidence that they’re walking the walk on the Haqqanis, on LET, or any of these groups that I’ve heard anybody here specify.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: That’s not – I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. I mean --
QUESTION: Also, what – I don’t want to argue.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Right.
QUESTION: What have they said today? What specific actions, steps, programs, operations, activities did they cite to you today to act against the Haqqani, LET, and Afghan Taliban? What is different today than was different a week ago on this?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So --
QUESTION: It sounds like they’re saying the right things, but what are the new things?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I’m not going to talk about details of the conversation. But just from publicly reported events, look at what’s happened with Lakhvi over the course of the last two weeks and the very strong position that the government has taken to make sure that he continues to be detained; the fact that Haqqanis have been disrupted. We have to see if it’s permanent or not, and they’ve talked about how they have gone after the Haqqanis. But it’s no secret that we continue to suggest that more has to be done on that in particular and that it’s very important to us, as it should be important to Pakistan and is very important to Afghans.
On Afghan Taliban, we’ve talked about kind of a range of issues, including where they can be supportive on reconciliation. So these are all very active strands of discussion. There’s some progress that’s out in the public domain, and we’ll have to see what continues to develop over the course of the next few months.
QUESTION: Can you be more specific when you say, like, Haqqani has been kind of – it’s been disrupted? In what way? How?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: That they’ve been – that they’ve been disrupted in the course of the North Waziristan operations. And so it has had at least some impact on their planning abilities, but we have to see whether that’s a permanent disruption or whether they just regroup someplace else that – where they can get back up to full speed.
QUESTION: Have there been attacks that have been thwarted?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, I think one thing which we’ll – we can probably give you more information after we’ve seen – they’re going to give us a presentation on the counterterrorism efforts over the last few months tomorrow morning. But in one chart that we saw, I think in the Law Enforcement/Counterterrorism Working Group this morning, they definitely demonstrate a sharp drop in domestic attacks since the beginning of the North Waziristan operation. So there’s been – there has been a significant disruption. And I know that they blame the Peshawar attack on the frustration of the TTP and the North Waziristan operation, and that they sought to take it out where they could, which was, horrifically, on a soft target.
QUESTION: Can I ask if there was any discussion – excuse me – today about the video over the weekend about several Pakistani Taliban, people pledging support towards IS? Has there been any concern expressed in the meetings being held today that there might be a “closening” or narrowing of links between the Pakistani Taliban, or any other groups in Pakistan, and Islamic State?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: There’s been a pretty consistent concern since IS first arose last year from the Pakistani Government across military and civilian intel channels that this is something that they had to keep a very close eye on, that they were very concerned about, and they were absolutely in lockstep with us and that there’s no daylight between us in terms of wanting to be coordinated in efforts to thwart more connections with ISIL. And frankly, the same has been expressed by the Afghan Government in terms of real concern.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: And they reiterated that concern.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do they believe that there are links, though? Have they any evidence of that?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: There are – we’ve seen the same reports. At this time, we still have to make an assessment, sort of, whether those are opportunistic or actually show some sort of more significant kind of theoretical (inaudible). At this point it seems – it appears that they’re more opportunistic, but certainly everybody is being very vigilant about that and wants to ensure that we do whatever we can to combat that.
QUESTION: And does that go for the Pakistani side as well, or (inaudible) there’s more of a link than (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: They didn’t – we didn’t get into that degree of detail. They’ve expressed concern about it, and obviously this is a first – one of the first public accounts of it; it’s something that they’ve reacted to. But we didn’t go into much more detail.
QUESTION: What about U.S. expectations? Did you – given the talks about how U.S. expectations for counterterrorism (inaudible) Pakistan may have changed in the wake of the drawdown in Afghanistan, is there a sense that you’re expecting more from them in terms of (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I think that’s kind of the wrong way to phrase it.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: You’re right, yeah.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: There’s been a discussion for some time now, certainly since Prime Minister Sharif came into office, about ways that we can find – to enable or support their counterterrorism efforts and continue the longstanding cooperation that we’ve enjoyed. And I think all of these evolutions to the terrorism threat, whether it’s the exceedingly and extraordinarily kind of tragic virulence of TTP or the emerging concerns with regard to the Islamic State or ISIL coming into South Asia, have, I think, (inaudible) that trend that had been growing for some time.
But it’s not simply about our requirements. I mean, we have mutual concerns with the mutual threat of al-Qaida. We tend to have, obviously, different concerns vis-a-vis LET and the Afghan Taliban. And now the focus is very clearly on how we can help them with their TTP efforts. So it’s been evolving for some time.
QUESTION: Did the Pakistanis indicate that there is something more in terms of U.S. assistance that they would like on the way to (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: They – we’ve talked for a while about our civilian assistance and security assistance relationships, and we’ve been quite open that both reached a high-water mark a few years ago – certainly civilian assistance, when – at the beginning of Kerry-Lugar-Berman when we had (inaudible) the $1.5 billion authorization – but that it’s important for both that they’re not ending precipitously, that we’re not abandoning the region, not abandoning Pakistan. And so continuing to make requests to Congress and get appropriations in a kind of responsible glide path down is something that we hope will be a mainstay of the relationship over the next few years. And that’s what we’ve continued to do, even though Kerry-Lugar-Berman is technically sensitive.
And on that note, they did ask – they did note that the costs of the North Waziristan operation have been extremely significant in terms of IDPs, refugee-related issues, rebuilding. They’ve convened donors a few times, and tomorrow we’ll release a fact sheet about what we’ve done on Kerry-Lugar-Berman over the course of the last few years, and there will be about – we’ll announce the $250 million of Kerry-Lugar-Berman that’s been appropriated, will be earmarked or kind of flagged for North Waziristan and FATA reconstruction, including for IDPs, in part to be responsive to that request.
QUESTION: Wait. That stuff has already been --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: It’s been appropriated already. It’s not new money, but it’s money that was either going to go elsewhere or that we’re redirecting.
QUESTION: So they were --
QUESTION: How much is that?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: It’s $250 million.
QUESTION: So they were pretty upfront that this is costing us a lot of money, and so how is there --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: It’s costing them a huge amount of money. Their estimates were well over $2 billion.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. How is their tax collection going?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: It’s --
QUESTION: I just thought that you guys had been pushing on them for about 10 years now about not collecting any tax money for (inaudible).
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: That’s part of the reason why we have a Strategic Dialogue, is to engage on the economic/finance issues.
QUESTION: So we’re just going to pay it for them?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: They’ve – they are doing a significant amount to try to get their economic house in order and they’ve been getting further on their IMF program than they’ve ever gotten historically.
QUESTION: Yeah. And how (inaudible) --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Increased tax – look, we’ve never been shy about saying that they had to do far more on tax collection themselves as well.
QUESTION: Well, as a U.S. taxpayer, I’m a little pissed off that we’re paying for their (inaudible).
QUESTION: One quick question: For the 250 million that will be earmarked for North Waziristan reconstruction --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: North Waziristan and FATA.
QUESTION: -- and FATA.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. Is that money actually going to go to reconstruction projects, or is it money that basically is going to go to the Pakistani Government (inaudible) that they will then allocate as they wish?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: This is how we framed it for tomorrow: To bolster the Government of Pakistan’s efforts to respond to the needs of return and rehabilitation of over 700,000 temporarily displaced persons from FATA, the U.S. will provide approximately 250 million in emergency food, aid, shelter, health, education, and livestock support, and we’ll continue discussions as needs emerge.
QUESTION: Great, thanks. And one other just quick (inaudible). I’m sorry if I missed this.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Sure.
QUESTION: The --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: This – sorry, the second piece of it, which I think is to your point – because I don’t – I wouldn’t say unequivocally that it doesn’t go to the government, but it’s far more focused on projects. The U.S. will continue to partner with Pakistan to reconstruct schools, hospitals, water supply systems and bridges in FATA to restore a sense of normalcy and assist in the return of IDPs or TDPs, as they’ve been called, to their home communities.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the question on who’s (inaudible) meeting? Is that the meeting with the prime minister? Was that dinner or was it --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: There was a – Secretary Kerry first had a meeting with Security Advisor Aziz as his direct counterpart and their teams that went into a one-on-one that the Secretary did with Prime Minister Sharif. And then we had this dinner discussion or working dinner.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The prime minister was also there.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The prime minister was there.
QUESTION: And how long did that last, the dinner and discussion (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Over two and a half hours.
QUESTION: Great. Thank you.
MODERATOR: We have time for one or two more.
QUESTION: So – well, can I – just technically on this money, when was it actually appropriated?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: It’s money that has already been appropriated.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We’ve got a – it’s – I think, depending on what it’s being used for, it comes from different funding buckets. So I think some --
QUESTION: Well, when? When?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Well, that’s what I’m saying. It’s everything --
MODERATOR: They were appropriated at different times.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: They’ve been appropriated at different times. You can’t – I mean --
QUESTION: But not (inaudible) --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Some of it is from FY14, some of it could be from prior years. I’m not sure.
QUESTION: Does it require any kind of notification or any kind of notification or waiver?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: We’ll have to – hopefully, our team will be notifying – is talking with Congress about what the intents are this morning, today.
QUESTION: I’m sorry?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Hopefully, our team is talking to Congress today about what the intent is. So yes, there will be – it’ll require some sort of notification.
QUESTION: And does it require any – is anybody subject to the waiver, to the certification waiver?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The certifications or national security waivers have already been done at the appropriation time, so it wouldn’t require at this point a new determination.
MODERATOR: All right. One more.
QUESTION: Can you – just an overview thing, what would you say the North Waziristan campaign has accomplished, and what remains to be done (inaudible) construction?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The North Waziristan operation really fundamentally is helping to establish the (inaudible) of the government across all of Pakistan. I mean, it’s – for many, many years, there was no real control by the Pakistani Government over that entire territory. They are trying to ensure that they have far more accountability over that region, which also means then that we can – and others can continue to see that they do more there. In the course of that, I think that they’ve helped deal – start to deal with their own domestic extremism issue, but it also has included kind of the nexus of extremist groups that operate out of North Waziristan.
QUESTION: Yeah, but what I’m asking is: Is a process (inaudible) halfway through or a quarter of the way through (inaudible), what have they accomplished? Have they --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: They said --
QUESTION: Have they re-established control? Have they (inaudible) away from control?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: They said that they’re still in the clearing phase, that they’re hoping to approach the end of the clearing phase, but that they’ve still got work to do to continue to mold it and then reconstruct it.
MODERATOR: All right. Thank you, everyone. Thank you all.